Sunday, March 26, 2023

UK civil society leaves no doubt that it wants a strong relationship with the EU

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Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) UK organized civil society is strongly in favor of a “deeper and more constructive” relationship with their EU counterparts and the EU as a whole, says a new report.

This, it is argued, could contribute to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and help maximize the potential of the EU-UK Trade Cooperation Agreement.

The report was drafted by the European Economic and Social Committee’s recent fact-finding visit to all four parts of the UK.

Based on first-hand contact with more than 60 civil society organizations, it is claimed that it demonstrates their “enthusiasm for further engagement and cooperation with the EU, its institutions and European organized civil society.”

The report states, “The relationship between the EU and the UK is very important for people on both sides of the Channel. However, as matters stand, that relationship has been hamstrung by the deadlock regarding the Protocol. The situation has been made even more difficult because even though the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified by the UK Parliament, the UK government is now insisting that the EU make “concessions” on the terms of the Protocol.”

EESC member Jack O’Connor, rapporteur for the report said that “Given the extreme gravity of the situation, it is imperative that we work on a mutually acceptable and sustainable solution. The Protocol’s deadlock has the potential to have significant consequences for the Trade Cooperation Agreement, and is threatening to reverse the gains made in the Northern Ireland peace process under the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement”.

It is encouraging, he notes, that UK civil society organizations are keen to strengthen the ties with their EU counterparts, as this could make it more likely that a solution will be found for both the technical issues arising from the Protocol and a number of other problems.

The report echoes the views of UK-organized civil society, particularly youth organizations: they feel that the loss of free EU movement stemming from the UK’s decision to bow out of EU programs such as Erasmus+ is one of the most harmful outcomes of Brexit, depriving young people of educational, professional, social and personal opportunities.

To mitigate this loss, at its meeting in November 2022 the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly made the case for a future mobility scheme for young British people with the EU-UK Partnership Council. 

The EESC said it welcomes this idea, but would also point out that young people are insufficiently represented in both the EU and UK Domestic Advisory Groups, a shortcoming that should be corrected.

The report notes that despite some progress in addressing concerns about the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement in terms of safeguarding citizens’ rights, it could not be said that all the difficulties have now been solved. 

EU citizens still face delays, backlogs, and problems with digital-only status – and many other problems as well.

On the other hand, UK citizens living in the EU have been more or less left to their own devices, since the organizations tasked with defending their rights are struggling financially and consequently understaffed. 

“The first step towards remedying this unfortunate situation would be to provide the largest organization for UK citizens in the EU, “British in Europe”, with the financial resources needed to continue its important work, said the EESC.

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